Ice cream may be a popular diversification for dairy farmers but not all have the staying power demonstrated by Goodall’s Farm in West Yorkshire. Olivia Midgley reports.
Adding value to milk was the driving force behind Manor Farm’s venture into real dairy ice cream.
Now, 30 years on and with a loyal customer base and national award under its belt, the farm is looking to build on its success as its positions itself for the future.
This year, the farm celebrates its 100th anniversary and while significant changes have developed the philosophy remains true to its core.
“The business has changed significantly from the days of my great-great grandfather who set up in 1918 milking about 20 cows, says Mark Goodall, fourth generation dairy farmer at the 300-acre farm in Tong, near Leeds, West Yorkshire.
“But I would say the ethos is the same. If we have an idea, we will try it and see if it works.”
Mark, who runs the farm in partnership with his uncle, Stephen, and wife, Karen, joined the business when he left school in 1983. It was five years later when his father, Michael, started making ice cream on the farm, selling it in a small shop on site.
Over the years the business has evolved and the Goodalls of Tong Ice Cream brand has flourished. The product is now sold through local restaurants and shops as well as from the farm’s popular parlour in cones and one-litre take home tubs.
Core to the product is the dairy herd behind it. The Goodall’s milk 200 cows, which, sticking with the family’s tradition, are all Holstein Friesians.
Milking takes place twice a day on a 20-point herringbone parlour and each cow averages about 28 litres a day with 4.2 per cent butterfat and 3.4 per cent protein content
While the majority of the milk goes to Arla, a proportion is held back for making ice cream, and this fluctuates depending on demand.
“The higher butterfat really helps the ice cream and gives it a rich, creamy flavour,” adds Mark, who spends about 10 per cent of his time making the ice cream.
“I would say 90 per cent of our time is spent on the cows.”
Minimal artificial insemination is used and cows are served with a dairy bull, currently Holstein Friesian Ingleview Casper.
Depending on the weather, cows graze from April to October and are fed a total mixed ration (TMR), a move which Mark believes works well for their system.
“We’re lucky to have a fantastic nutritional consultant in Jennifer Smith, of K.W Feeds,” Mark says. “She has worked closely with us for about 20 years an is an integral part of the team.”
While Yorkshire usually gets its fair share of rain, it is the lack of it this year which has thrown up challenges for many businesses, and Manor farm is no exception.
“This year has been an extraordinary one, in that I cannot remember it being so dry,” Mark adds.
“It has meant we have had to selectively cull some cattle. I know many others are in the same boat.
“We took a second cut of silage which we fed in three weeks. I’d say in August/September we were a third down on silage stocks, which equates to about 700 tonnes. We bought in 130 tonnes of hay, but that really is a drop in the ocean.”
Despite a tumultuous few months on the farming side, Manors’ customers have been revelling in the sunshine.
And through a mixture of product development and a record hot weather season, the farm business has grown from strength to strength.
“I would say the last 12 months have probably been our most successful yet,” adds Mark.
“We have worked hard on the ice cream flavours and the shop has been extremely popular. The fantastic summer we have had has obviously helped with that.”
The family was rewarded earlier this year when their vanilla ice cream scooped an artisan award at the national Ice Cream Exhibition held in Harrogate, which saw dozens of entires being judged.
“Winning the award was a real achievement because there is a lot of competition out there,” says Karen.
“It is hard to believe but there are about 60 flavours of vanilla. It’s good to know we have got it right.
“We go to the exhibition every year because it is useful to see what other people are doing in the industry and share ideas from a whole range of businesses, from farm shops to solely ice cream manufacturers.”
Listening to feedback has also been an essential part of ensuring the diversification remains relevant and, in turn, profitable.
“It’s important to listen to what our customers are telling us. We do take on what they say,” says Karen.
“Some suggest the flavours they’d like to see and other products they would like to see in the shop. Our Hocus Pocus ice cream, which is vanilla with cinder toffee, is by far our bestseller.”
Success and the longevity of the enterprise has enabled the family to plough profit back in.
“We have expanded as we have gone along,” says Mark. “It has enabled us to invest in more efficient pasteurising kit and further diversifications such as the children’s play area.
“The new machine has made a real difference to the business. It used to take me nine hours to make a batch of ice cream but with the new one it takes four and a half.
“It has been a godsend this year when time has been short and customers have been flocking to the farm for ice cream due to the hot weather all summer.”
Mark and Karen described dealing with the public and the associated health and safety and food hygiene regulation that goes with such an enterprise as a ‘steep learning curve’.
“Farmers have a lot of paperwork to deal with in the general running of the business but of course a diversification like this definitely adds to that,” says Karen.
“I spend a lot of my time doing the paperwork and making sure everything is up to scratch as well as being on the customer-focussed side of the business.
“We don’t get a lot of time together as any sort of business which is customer-facing means you are working unsociable hours, but we will hopefully get a bit of time out later in the year when things quieten down.”
The workload has recently been eased thanks to the addition of Mark’s sister Alison.
Always looking to seek new markets, with the help of Alison, the couple plan to branch out to cater for afternoon teas on weekdays when footfall in the shop is lower.
“We are hoping this will increase trade when we are quieter through the week and through the winter when people don’t buy as much ice cream,” adds Karen.